NEWS BULLETIN 31-4 JUNE 13, 2003

On Close Vote, Assembly Declines to Erect Study Committees on Doctrinal Subscription

Charlotte, North Carolina (June 12, 2003)—The 31st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) this afternoon decided not to erect study committees on the matter of doctrinal subscription. The key vote was on a substitute motion to adopt a minority report from the Bills & Overtures (B&O) Committee, to answer Overtures 8 (from Western Carolina Presbytery) and 16 (from Mississippi Valley Presbytery) in the negative. That substitute became the main motion, 530-477, or about 52.6% to 47.4%.

In bringing the item to the floor, the B&O Committee itself also reflected the highly-divided nature of the vote in the Assembly. The Committee had voted 20-16-1 to recommend that Overture 8, which called for a study committee, be answered in the affirmative, and that Overture 16, which called for an ad interim committee, be answered by reference to that action.

After Dr. Robert Ferguson of South Texas Presbytery presented the minority report, the Rev. Andrew Webb, another member of B&O, spoke against the substitute. He pleaded that “it would be a very bad idea not to heal some of these wounds” that have been inflicted over the past year. “I am asking that the majority be magnanimous in victory.”

Speaking in favor of the substitute was the Rev. Ray Cortese of Central Florida Presbytery. The pastor from Lecanto, Florida, said, “Sometimes, there has to be a decision made”; and he suggested that “the effect of a study committee would be to distract us from moving forward” in ministry and mission. He also stated that many elders and ministers had absented themselves from the General Assembly because of not relishing “the arcane debates.”

The Rev. Jeff Hutchinson, senior pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Asheville, North Carolina, stated that there was a perception that some comments have suggested a less-than-gracious attitude on the part of the majority that approved Good Faith subscription. In his words, it was an attitude of, “We want to move on and make the minority eat our dust.”

After his speech, time expired, the Assembly declined to extend time, and took the momentous vote. However, adopting the substitute as the main motion did not end the debate on the matter.

Dr. Don Clements of Blue Ridge Presbytery, who was B&O Chairman, spoke from one of the floor microphones against the motion. He noted that Overture 8 spoke of “perfecting” the Constitutional language on the issue, and that appointing such a study committee would not entail “reopening the whole issue.” He also argued that waiting a few more years will make that process more difficult.

The Rev. George Robertson of Missouri Presbytery argued for the motion: “We have never come to a more clear conclusion than by drawing the line in the sand between full subscription and Good Faith subscription. . . . A one-third minority of this denomination is not, I hesitate to say, a substantial minority, although it’s significant in the sight of God. . . . This church has consistently said it refuses to be made into something it never intended to be.”

Arguing against the motion was the Rev. David Hall of North Georgia Presbytery, who contended that “the best of ‘good faith’ is to hear one another. . . . This issue is worth our time. . . . If I were a leader in the Good Faith position, I would want to increase the consensus from a 530 to 476 vote. We have nothing to fear,” he said, in studying the matter via a committee.

The Rev. Larry Hoop of Iowa Presbytery said that much of the contention over subscription “sounded more like interpersonal issues. Before we do any more study on the book of order, let’s take some time to rebuild relationships.”

Dr. Ferguson concluded the debate by saying that with regard to “perfecting” language, “there’s no question that people are already debating the language. . . . No one of us really knows what those words in themselves really mean. . . . I don’t believe we will have enough information until we see the matter in practice.”

The Assembly, by a larger margin than on the previous vote, denied Overtures 8 and 16.

GA Votes for Pastoral Letter on Racism and the Gospel

Charlotte, North Carolina (June 12, 2003)—The 31st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) today voted to direct the Mission to North America (MNA) Committee to draft a pastoral letter on racism and the gospel. The vote to adopt Overture 17 from Nashville Presbytery, as amended, was overwhelming.

However, approval did not come without a fight. The Bills & Overtures (B&O) Committee itself was divided on the question, having voted 24-13-1 to adopt the overture; and a minority report in opposition was also before the court.

Representing the minority was Ruling Elder Hugh Sung of Philadelphia Presbytery. Reflecting on his own experiences of having been discriminated against as one of Korean descent, Mr. Sung, poignantly at times, proclaimed that the radical nature of the gospel precluded the adoption of worldly standards of culture. “Our identity should be primarily spiritual and not cultural.”

The Rev. Bruce O’Neill spoke against the minority’s substitute motion. Confessing himself to be a son of the South, and descended from a slave owner, he claimed, “We still have tremendous things we have to get over.” He also confessed “the racism of my own heart.”

Favoring the minority report was the Rev. Bob Slimp of Palmetto Presbytery, who stated that the unity which believers have in Christ “has been emphasized at this Assembly again and again.” Instead of relying upon the words of mere men who would write such a pastoral letter, “we should depend upon prayer.”

The Rev. George Robertson of Missouri Presbytery argued against the substitute and in favor of the overture, which he said simply says that racism is contrary to the gospel. He excoriated those who believe that there was some righteousness in slavery and that there is warrant for segregation.

As time on debate on the substitute motion expired, Mr. Sung stated that “the church is called to rule her people in spiritual matters and spiritual needs. Our God is able to break down all these barriers.” He urged the commissioners “to find a better way—to call upon our God and not look upon these problems as the world does.”

The minority report was voted down, and the debate continued on the main motion, which was to adopt Overture 17. The Rev. Howard Davis of Louisiana Presbytery alleged: “It’s obvious if you look at any of our churches in the PCA that racism is a problem.”

Opposing the motion, Ruling Elder Jim Mezzanotte of Central Carolina Presbytery noted that his granddaughter is half African-American. “If there is any prejudice in our hearts, we pray that the Lord would remove it. Let’s not write something. Let’s leave here and go out and do something about it.”

The Rev. Cal Boroughs of Tennessee Valley Presbytery argued for the overture: “What is at stake here is the proclamation of the gospel in its integrity.” He claimed that the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America in 1861 stated that the African race in the midst of us can never be elevated in the scale of being. He continued: “There are published remarks that there are those who believe the races should be separate.”

The last word in the debate went to Committee Chairman Don Clements, who spoke proudly of the good work of all the members of the Committee, including those in the minority on this issue who had helped to perfect the language. He said that the MNA Committee needs to pay close attention to the precise language which the B&O Committee had proposed, and what language had been left out.

GA Seeks Consensus on Recording Exceptions in Minutes

Charlotte, North Carolina (June 12, 2003)—The knotty issue of the recording of exceptions in the minutes of presbyteries was once again before the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Through a set of amendments to the Rules of Assembly Operation (RAO) dubbed the Chapell-Clements Compromise, and also the Virginia-Missouri Compromise, the Assembly has now required that “Presbytery minutes shall record ministers’ and ministerial candidates’ stated differences with our Standards, that the presbytery approves as doctrinal exceptions.” The Assembly also added the following statement to the RAO: “Neither the report of the committee [i.e., the Committee on the Review of Presbytery Records] nor the General Assembly’s approval or disapproval of this report establishes doctrinal precedent.”

The proposal was forwarded by the Bills & Overtures (B&O) Committee, which had recommended the accommodation on a vote of 27-6-2. Dr. David Coffin immediately moved a substitute, that the Assembly respond to Overture 5 from Illiana, Eastern Canada, North Florida, and Blue Ridge [over, please] Presbyteries in the negative. The Fairfax, Virginia, pastor stated that the change in the RAO “is in fact contrary to Chapter 40” of the Book of Church Order (BCO), which speaks of the review of records, as well as contrary to other Constitutional provisions. Furthermore, with regard to the language regarding not establishing doctrinal precedent, Dr. Coffin averred: “I find this language as somewhat marvelous. A precedent is a ground for a future action.” In his view, if the Assembly rules in a particular way on a matter, “we are required to act in the same way.”

However, the substitute was defeated, and debate continued on the main motion.

The Rev. Jonathan Inman of Western Carolina Presbytery moved an amendment, to strike the last clause in the first proposed change to the RAO (“that the presbytery approves doctrinal exceptions”). The Asheville pastor argued that not only would this be a simpler rule, but that it would also ensure that those stated differences would be recorded, even if a presbytery did not regard them as “doctrinal exceptions.”

Arguing against this amendment was Dr. Robert Ferguson, who said that eliminating this clause would clutter up the minutes and make it harder for the review committee to do its job. He also said that “what we should be reviewing is not what a brother said at a presbytery, but what action a court has taken.”

Mr. Inman’s amendment was heavily defeated, and then the main motion was adopted. The Assembly also, by reference to this action, answered Overture 6 from New Jersey Presbytery and Overture 20 from Westminster Presbytery, which proposed amending the BCO regarding subscription and exceptions.

The next item of business was handling Overture 18 from Covenant Presbytery, which proposed only the first of the RAO changes. The B&O Committee had recommended, 21-16-0, to answer that overture in the negative, and with no debate, that recommendation carried.

In Other Action . . .

In other action, the 31st PCA General Assembly:

Declared that “Nothing done by the previous General Assembly compels any court of original jurisidiction to exercise discipline on issues pertaining to the report of the Ad-Interim Committee on Women in Military.” This was in response to Overtures 1 (Potomac) and 3 (Chesapeake).

Voted down all overtures seeking to modify the election procedures at General Assembly.

Answered Overture 19 from Philadelphia and Rocky Mountain Presbyteries by a statement that affirms that marriage is monogamous and heterosexual, and that states that “the Scriptures warn of the danger to any nation that defies God’s law regarding the family.”

Editorially corrected BCO 58-5 regarding the words of institution for the Lord’s Supper, and also sent down an amendment to the same section, granting flexibility in the wording of institution.

Encouraged two sister presbyteries “to discuss any matters of dispute between them.”


“Good morning, fathers and brethren, and fellow sleepyheads.”—Dan King, Chairman of Ridge Haven Committee of Commissioners, at 8:10 AM.

“We are really excited, . . . because we are going to be in a position to get one of those famous Moderator cookies.”—Mo up de Graaf, Ridge Haven Coordinator, prior to keeping his report to 15 minutes.

“Forgive me, fathers, for I have sinned: I already get my cookie because they were up there.”—Roy Taylor.

“If I could call for a minute of personal privilege.”—Peter Lillback. “That would help us solve so many problems. If you wonder about why we’ve been huddling—usually, we panic when we’re running behind; right now, we’re running ahead and we’re trying to figure out what to plug in.”—Joel Belz. “Well, then I’ll take two minutes.”—Peter Lillback.

“Yes, Lord—I’m talking to the Assembly, I’ll get back to you in a minute.”—Roy Taylor, hanging up the telephone which rang as he was addressing the Assembly.

“Mr. Moderator, I looked around and around to find the makeup room to be in front of the camera, and I couldn’t find it.”—Don Clements, Chairman of Bills & Overtures Committee.

“In this part of the document, as hard as I looked, I couldn’t find any omnibus motions.”—Don Clements, reflecting on the fact that none of his Committee’s recommendations was unanimous.

“The vote was 27-7-4. I wouldn’t call it a miracle, but pretty close to it.”—Robert Ferguson.

“The much-ignored mike in the corner here.”—a commissioner at microphone 13.